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Identifying Blue Catfish and Channel Catfish


Blue catfish and channel catfish are two of the most readily available species of catfish and also two of the most sought after species. Most rivers lakes and reservoirs and the United States have populations of either blue catfish or channel catfish available in good numbers.

Despite the fact that the blue catfish and channel catfish are very different species of fish they are often confused by anglers. I cannot tell you how many times over the years I have received emails about the latest “lake record” channel catfish on one of our local lakes only to find that the angler had caught a blue catfish and was not aware of it.

For the most part, you can almost always easily identify a blue catfish and channel catfish by their coloring with  a quick glance but there are occasions where you will catch a fish of either species that has some really off coloring and it can be a bit confusing to identify the species if you don’t know what to look for.

Here are the key identifying characteristics of blue catfish and channel catfish and how you can tell the difference between these two different species of fish.


Blue Catfish

  • Slate blue to white coloring
  • Anal fin is flat (when laid flat it forms a straight line)
  • Anal fin has between thirty and thirty six rays

Channel Catfish

  • Olive brown to grey coloring
  • Rounded anal fin (when laid flat it curves out away from the fish like a letter “c”)
  • Twenty four to twenty nine rays in the anal fin
  • Often has dark spots, but these spots can be absent in adult fish


Some states have different size restrictions for catfish of different species and certainly if you catch a big catfish, you want to make sure you know what you caught because it could just be the next world record catfish.  If for some reason you catch a fish that has some odd coloring and your not sure by looking at the color, just refer to these identifying factors for each fish and you will be able to tell the differences quickly and easily!

This article is part of an ongoing series about catfishing called “blue catfish 101”  geared towards helping anglers learn to catch more and bigger catfish.

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About Chad

Chad Ferguson is a professional catfish guide and founder of Learn To Catch Catfish. Click here to subscribe for more exclusive catfish fishing tips by email and then follow on Twitter or Google

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